On Swiss National Day, the country’s leaders sent a customary message of pride in the homeland but also reminded citizens of the tough challenges such as terrorism and migration.
The speeches by members of the Swiss cabinet who criss-cross the country, reminding people of Switzerland’s values, achievements and challenges, combined with the more celebratory rituals of August 1 enjoyed not just across Switzerland but also by Swiss associations abroad.
The Swiss grilled cervelat sausages, painted lanterns with Swiss crosses and set off fireworks during social get-togethers, whether at home, in public places, on the banks of lakes or rivers or in farmyards for a traditional brunch.
Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann said in his annual speech to the Swiss abroad on Monday that the country is “proud of its citizens, near and far” and is tightening relations between all of them through e-voting and a new online platform launching in October.
He recalled one of this year’s highlights so far: the June 1 official opening of the 57-kilometre Gotthard Tunnel through the Alps, now the longest rail tunnel in the world. “We’re proud of this monumental project that brings northern and southern Europe closer together,” said Schneider-Ammann, who holds this year’s revolving presidency among the seven-member cabinet.
Carla del Ponte
Carla del Ponte, a highly regarded Swiss and international war crimes prosecutor who is currently probing rights abuses in Syria, was giving the keynote speech on the Rütli Meadow overlooking Lake Lucerne.
It is on the meadow where, according to legend, representatives of the three founding Swiss cantons met in 1291 to form an alliance against the Habsburgs, their feudal lords.
The festivities included the presentation of a proposed new text for the national anthem, which won a year-long contest sponsored by the Swiss Society for the Common Good, and a guest of honour, the Swiss Red Cross, celebrating its 150th anniversary.
Del Ponte said she was "proud to be from, and sometimes represent, a nation which is often seen as small and prosperous but capable of great vision". She said the Swiss must "keep our independence and diversity, without fear".
Another cabinet member, Doris Leuthard said in a speech on Monday in Schaffhausen (in German, French and Italian) that one of the cabinet’s chief concerns is security, because the Swiss must remain on guard against terrorism.
“Countless innocent people have been victims of violent acts among our neighbours. But we are not invulnerable. We are not immune to attacks of such perfidy,” said Leuthard, Switzerland’s environment and transport minister.
“We need to cooperate closely with other countries in the fight against crime and the dismantling of terrorist networks, because no country today can alone guarantee its security completely and effectively,” she said. “What we can – and must – do is defend our freedom and our values.”
She noted the Swiss account for just 0.12% of the world population and 0.003% of the land, yet they are considered the most economically competitive and among the most peaceful societies – enjoying a good reputation, prosperity and world-class educational opportunities that are crucial to getting work.
“Of course, all is not rosy in the 21st century. Competition, investment and prosperity are the subject of a competition increasingly fierce. We must continue to evolve,” Leuthard said.
“Foreigners continue to come to us. Famine, violence, wars, ecological problems, unemployment: differences between old and rich, between north and south are too high. We need a coherent policy (and global) on migration and development aid,” she said.
The newest cabinet member, Guy Parmelin, invoked the likes of fighting in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and of the fear of terror in Europe in a speech on Monday in Bern (in German, French and Italian). He said Switzerland’s freedom depends on keeping it a safe country.
“Unfortunately before our eyes we have many examples of countries or regions that are victims of political instability, economic hardship or conflict, struggling to find or regain a semblance of balance,” said Parmelin, Switzerland's defence minister.
“We need to look for our part that Switzerland does not know these difficulties and remains a safe country, perceived elsewhere as such by its inhabitants,” he said. “It can rely on its solid institutions, on its lively and stimulating democracy, on its dynamic economy, and on its knowledge and skills as it faces tomorrow – and on the value of its work and the benefits that justly accrue from it.